The Sochi plan and the hockey team that won with it
We all sort of chuckled when Canada’s men were playing ball hockey in the summer.
It was strange yet familiar, there was something about insurance, and it looked fun. But when Mike Babcock had the floor, he was dead serious. They were working.
That work showed up in Sochi. The red machine got rolling. Canada won this tournament by allowing only three goals, not by scoring buckets. When Crosby flew in alone on Lundqvist tonight, it was novel. Canada’s many chances were formed by living in the offensive zone and rarely in transition.
“Great defence means you play defence fast and you have the puck all the time so you’re always on offence,” clarifies Babcock, “We were a great offensive team.” He is emphatic.
Both Babcock and Yzerman admit after the game they would have enjoyed more scoring. What they did get was complete cooperation. All week the players repeated coaching-isms. They weren’t robots, they were glowing, confident and calm. Jonathan Toews had the key first goal tonight, in this tournament he literally sat on the dasher before every change. You could barely keep him off the ice, “It was a feeling of absolute trust, you jump over the boards, you’re going out there to do the exact same thing the line before you did and keep the momentum going,” said Toews.
Most of the time, he was changing for Crosby. Two of hockey’s best players. A reminder of what Canada had here. They all fit very well. And they all played very hard. “He (Babcock) instills a lot of confidence in the group, you can see that he trusts every guy out there,” said Sidney Crosby. “To have a group come together this quick isn’t easy, and everyone’s kind of laughing at the ball hockey in August but all those little things go a long way,” finishes the captain.
Matt Duchene talks about Babcock’s ‘calming presence’ and Patrick Marleau said, “he’s got a plan for everything.” Coaching is about a system, and the personality to make it work. I suppose ‘making it work’ is the cliché ending there, and isn’t enough. Babcock and his staff made it hum.
There were moments when it seemed like Sweden might never get the puck back. Coach Marts was missing a handful of his best, and at a loss, “They had so many breakouts I couldn’t count them,” he said. Canada had 36 shots on Henrik Lundqvist, who was so brilliant a 3-0 score is a merciful result. The Canadian goals do well to explain their tournament. The Toews goal was the tenacity, Crosby’s the skill, and the Kunitz shot, straight in, represents the ease that Canada found.
These big athletes. Titans in the NHL, crushing opponents on the Russian coast. It makes you sit back and wonder why anyone fretted so much. Coasting later in his Closing Ceremony gear, Babcock is alive with victory. Who wouldn’t be. He’s also tiring of the discussion. “Does anybody know who won the scoring race?” He says, pausing. “Does anybody care? Does anybody know who won the gold medal?” Again, silence. “See ya guys.” Mike Babcock shakes Yzerman’s hand on the walk out. See you next Games, I guess.